By Lorraine C. Taylor, Ph.D., Director, Youth Opportunity Initiative, Alliance Behavioral Healthcare
I had the privilege of serving on two action teams, Opportunity Youth as well as the Academic Success teams. Why on earth would someone commit to serving on two teams? For me, the chance to work with community members and leaders focused on the common goal of designing a youth well-being model for Wake County was too good to pass by! With constant reports of young people in Wake County being killed in accidents, involvement in crime, and failing to connect to post-secondary education and jobs, I was ready to use my skills to focus on solutions. Moreover, my awareness of the good work that so many community members do every day to promote positive outcomes for youth was also a compelling reason to sign up. I wanted to be involved in the solution, not just continued focus on the problems.
The two teams on which I served focused on interconnected topics. Academic success reduced the likelihood of a young person being an “opportunity youth,” which is generally defined as a young person not enrolled in school, not working, and often dealing with other major life challenges like involvement with the criminal justice system, mental health issues, being pregnant or having children, or exiting foster care. For “opportunity youth,” academic success may seem elusive although it remains as a critical protective factor for future success. Often in our action team meetings, the work of the other teams would be mentioned. Having my fingers on two pulses was helpful, I was often able to share cross-group insights in our action team meetings.
Despite the enormity of the task at hand, I was encouraged by this effort for two main reasons. First, the people were amazing. All of them! From the action team group leaders who did an excellent job of ensuring that all voices were heard in our meetings to the staff from Youth Thrive who ran this entire process like a well-oiled machine. This was a highly organized and efficiently planned process that made our work run smoothly. I sincerely appreciated the chance to receive training and guidance from the Forum for Youth Investment, leaders in the Collective Impact field. The quality of this outside support was top notch and helped to facilitate more effective work within the action teams. Within the action teams, I worked with service providers, school district personnel, law enforcement, community leaders, and a host of others who were invested in the success of young people in Wake County. It was inspirational to partner with such a diverse range of community representatives who may not have always agreed on the details, but who were united in the goal of promoting the success of our youth.
The second reason why this process was so encouraging is that the fruits of our collective action team labor resulted in a road map of steps that can be taken to move the needle on success for Wake County’s youth. The teams have identified and vetted solutions that are creative, yet build upon established practices and programming. Because this was a dynamic and interactive process across a range of community partners across several teams, the solutions identified represent concrete ways in which we can promote the well-being of youth. These solutions are not abstractions created in a vacuum, these are real and doable solutions that can truly make a difference. There is still much work to be done, but I am encouraged by the success of the teams in developing quality solutions. Wake County is on the path to realizing the Youth Master Plan and I look forward to serving on an “Implementation” Team, or two.